As a Public Diplomacy Officer, as well as a former exchange student, I am a firm believer in the power of citizen diplomacy. In the week when China's Vice President Xi traveled to Iowa to visit his hosts from an exchange trip in 1985, one cannot underestimate its impact -- on the exchange participant as well as on his host and home communities -- and effectiveness. As Under Secretary Maria Otero tweeted recently, "The need for people to people exchanges is more compelling than ever. Nothing substitutes for living in a different culture."
Now working in the U.S. Senate as a Pearson Fellow, I've had the opportunity to view citizen diplomacy from an entirely different angle. On February 17, representatives from organizations belonging to the National Council of International Visitors (NCIV) came to Capitol Hill for meetings with Members of Congress and their staff. The NCIV is the professional association for a national network of Councils for International Visitors (CIVs) whose members include program agencies, associate members, and community-based member organizations.
In partnership with the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), these groups design and implement tailored professional programs, provide cultural activities, and offer home hospitality opportunities for foreign leaders, scholars, and specialists. They serve participants in the Department of State's flagship International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), whose alumni include more than 320 heads of state, 1,700 cabinet-level ministers and many other distinguished leaders. IVLP alumni include: Felipe Calderón, President of Mexico; Abdullah Gul, President of Turkey; Julia E. Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia; Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France; Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India; and Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.
In the video above, Laura Dupuy, Executive Director of the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, reflects on hosting one particular IVLP participant from Iraq, and discusses the impact the experience had on both of their lives. The enthusiasm of the CIV representatives from my Senator's home state of New Mexico for the program was also inspiring. They shared photos and stories from the visits of different program groups. The fact that these efforts are driven by volunteers makes the program even more impressive in my eyes. The aggregate efforts of NCIV members engage more than 80,000 volunteers, and local fundraising raises $6 for every $1 received in federal grants. Being on the Hill, it was important for the CIV representatives to convey the economic impact that the IVLP program has in the United States. The entire IVLP budget is spent in the United States, and the IVLP leveraged more than $41.5 million in local economic impact in FY2011.
Learning from these hosts of International Visitors gave me an entirely new perspective. I was grateful not just to them but to my hosts from my own exchange experience. I was also grateful to the U.S. Congress and the American people, for it was through a program funded by the U.S. Congress and German Bundestag, the U.S. Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program, that allowed me to spend a year in Germany, which is where my dream of becoming a Foreign Service Officer began.